Monday, November 28, 2011

RIP Ken Russell

"Reality is a dirty word for me, I know it isn't for most people, but I am not interested. There's too much of it about."

"Art is alive. Enjoy it, laugh at it, love it or hate it but don't worship it!" Savage Messiah

Russell was one of British cinema's creative geniuses. Always pushing the limits, always provocative, much maligned, reviled and misunderstood, often brilliant, often excruciatingly bad and screamingly camp. He could be infuriating, shocking and disgusting but he was never ever boring; very much a saint and a sinner to British film and for that we weary cinephiles thank you.

And I won't dwell too much on what seeing Oliver Reed and Alan Bates wrestling naked in front of an open fire did to me as a sexually burgeoning young teenager. For that I thank you too.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

"She's a high-riding woman with a whip"

Forty Guns (Samuel Fuller)

The idea of Barbara Stanwyck galloping around the prairie in a stetson, cracking a whip, is disappointingly underplayed in Forty Guns. Also the potential Freudian and feminist elements are never explored past the surface (though the two female stars are as spunky as the men are handsome, Jessica Drummond is only waiting for a man to take charge). If you want a western with Freudian subtext and lesbians in spurs & chaps then see the superb Johnny Guitar instead.
It's still good fun and camp enough to make the already short running time whiz by. Stanwyck is always never less than watchable and Barry Sullivan's rugged presence does the job it's intended. The dialogue is sparky if a little ropey "I've never kissed a gunsmith before" "I need a strong man to carry out my orders... And a weak one to take them". And the visual effects are a bit of a treat: a big close-up of Sullivan's eyes, during a shoot-out, diminishs the desired dramatic effect as it causes us to titter but it's still a thrill. As is the scene when the burgeoning lovers spy each other lovingly through the barrel of a gun! (how romantic)
But the absolute highlight here is the two songs - both of which are unexpectedly and quite spectacularly sung in character. The Woman With a Whip number is especially ripe as it's sung by one of the male leads as his mates watch on, smiling nonchalantly, as they soap themselves in their bath-tubs! The other song, sung as a funeral rite, initially startled and surprised me in it's bravado of having a man sing a love song where the object of desire is another man. Of course the 'He' of his affections had to be God [damn!] but a guy can project can't he??
All this (vaguely homoerotic) campery had me thinking... Forty Guns is probably only two songs shy of an all-out musical! Now that would have been a lot more intriguing.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Big films, big stars, big blah...

The Debt (John Madden)

A worthy subject given the big superficial treatment that isn't a total loss but the disappointment is bitter - mostly when anyone opens their mouth.
Except Jesper Christensen. This really is his film. While everyone else is busy hamming it up (or, if you're Sam Worthington, just looking blank) and/or impersonating each other, while failing to convince us with hoky accents, Christensen is scaring the Hell out of us in one of the greatest pieces of cinema villiany I have ever seen.
Laurence Olivier had a drill and "is it safe?" for Dustin Hoffman in The Marathon Man - Christensen manages to be even more unnerving and terrifying with a speculum for Jessica Chastain!


Contagion (Steven Soderbergh)

Good idea to kill off Gwynnie early on but how many of us will not be happy to spend nearly two hours wishing Jude Law would die next!

Hopefully he's forgotten the air-holes
Not bad but not really that great either. The characters were too thinly stretched and it cried out for a better script - too many lazy montages with a misplaced synth score that will date this one by the second.
It's still gripping and very watchable though and Kate Winslet was great. Special mention should go to Jennifer Ehle (an effective British actress usually relegated to bit parts in big films) who was given a lot of screen time for a change - a subtle and natural performance that seems to be getting passed over because she's not one of the A lister's.
It was also surprisingly very funny (the 'always wash your hands' warning of the coda will have you tittering into the credits). But I'm not convinced that was always the intention however.